Preservation Photos #163

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Happy New Year! Wishing everyone a happy 2013. The Vergennes Depot has a bright future; here it sits on its new foundation where it is undergoing rehabilitation. Stay tuned for updates.

Preservation Photos #141

The historic truss bridge on Bridge Street in Richmond, VT undergoing the second half of its paint job.

Remember the Red & Green Richmond Truss Bridge? Well, soon it will be all red.

Ruminations on a Small Town

By Elyse Gerstenecker

Now that I have departed Southwest Virginia for sunny Florida and have had time to reflect on my experience there, one of my greatest regrets is dismissing the small town of Glade Spring as an option for my home. When I first moved to the area, I largely focused on finding an apartment in Abingdon, the town where I worked, and preferably one in a historic building. On an early apartment-hunting trip to the area with my mother prior to starting my position, my soon-to-be co-worker suggested looking into Glade Spring, which is nearby. Not having had much success in Abingdon, we drove to the town, which my mother promptly pronounced “that shabby little town” (a descriptor that soon substituted for the town’s actual name). I am ashamed to admit it, but I wholeheartedly agreed. Little did I know that the town was on the verge of a major revitalization project and that I would soon become friends with many of those involved.

Glade Spring Town Square. Photo by Elyse Gerstenecker.

Glade Spring lies in the lower Valley of Virginia, along the most easily traversed path through the Appalachian Mountains. This area witnessed the migration of people south from cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia along the Great Wagon Road, a travel route that followed previous paths established by Native Americans, as well as the development of railroads along this same route. The town truly became established after the Virginia and Tennessee railroad built a depot in 1856, allowing passengers to travel to the area to see the springs and take advantage of what were thought to be its curative powers.

In 1918, the state road leading from Bristol to Roanoke and running near Glade Spring was connected to the state road from Roanoke to West Virginia, and this road became part of the enormous US Route 11 in 1926. US Route 11 ran from upstate New York (and continued in Canada) to New Orleans, Louisiana and was one of many US roads that served as popular routes for motoring tourists from the 1930s until the 1960s, when the interstate system was developed.

Again, because of the lack of available alternatives in this region, US Interstate 81 largely follows the path of US 11 in Southwest Virginia, but unlike US Route 11, bypasses many of the small towns of the region, albeit often very closely. For Glade Spring and other towns, the introduction of the interstate and concurrent closure of passenger rail service signaled the end of an era of tourism and the economy it supported. Much of Glade Spring has been in a state of downfall since the 1960s (and probably longer), thus my mother’s designation of “that shabby little town” was not entirely incorrect.

However, the dedication of a group of citizens, led by Project Glade, has transformed the central square of this small town into a business center. The group’s stated goal is to “promote for Glade Spring, VA sustainable development that relies on the town’s traditions and on the innovations as it engages a dedicated citizenry in the improvement of community life.” The evolution of the square was underway before I moved to Southwest Virginia but really began to show in the following years.

Coburn Creative, a graphic design group led by now mayor Lee Coburn, anchors the square with a thriving business centered on creativity. Salon on the Square, operated by Coburn’s partner Melissa Dickenson, is next door and showcases the creativity of the pair. You do not typically see hair salons this cool in small towns, let alone Southwest Virginia. The pair live with their daughter above their businesses, demonstrating their dedication to this town. Improvements such as new sidewalks and lighting began prior to my move in 2008. Surber & Sons, a hardware store/anything-you-could-possibly-think of store, was already established, as was the Carolina Furniture Company and the Arise Community Center. The largest improvement in the town square has been the new Glade Spring branch of the Washington County Public Library. The library formerly occupied a tiny church, but, with Project Glade taking up the cause, the WCPL system and Project Glade raised enough funds to renovate an old corner grocery store on the town square into a beautiful new library to serve the town’s residents, and it opened in early 2011.

Glade Spring Half Church. Photo by Elyse Gerstenecker.

Before my departure in February 2011, I enjoyed great food from the Town Square Diner, a new greasy-spoon style diner also located on the square. MADE, which opened in 2010, has presented Glade Spring with another great business opportunity. This small boutique showcases handmade items created by members of the Glade Spring community and surrounding areas, and the owners encourage crafters to come by and work on projects in-store. Building a town center based on creativity, if not an overall sense of quirkiness, highlights the community’s unique character and serves the basic needs of the town while attracting visiting types like me who delight in finding one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry and flower pins at MADE, browsing the shelves of Surber & Sons (a veritable cabinet of curiosities), buying local produce at the farmer’s market, or eating cheese fries while getting a haircut at a great salon.

With Emory & Henry College so close, I cannot help but think that these kinds of businesses will see patronization, with a little encouragement, from the local student population. The town now hosts Movie Nights and music concerts in the square. Plans are in the works for transforming a beautiful but decaying bank in the square into an artisan’s workshop (the craft culture in Southwest Virginia is hugely important) as well as addressing some issues of buildings that have become so decrepit that they are beyond repair. I am not unaware of the fact that Glade Spring has a long way to go, and that many more adventurous, creative entrepreneurs like Coburn and Dickenson are needed to make the town successful, even beyond the square, but this is a promising start. It is truly beautiful, as a historic preservationist, to see a community take on this type of challenge with this much dedication and enthusiasm. I now wish that I had the foresight back in 2008 to move to this town and become a participant in this wonderful, extraordinarily welcoming, and often hilariously quirky community.

Sadly, Glade Spring suffered a setback on April 28, 2011. The same weather system that generated the record-setting, massive tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama set off an F-1 tornado in Glade Spring directly along the path of Interstate 81, virtually destroying a truck stop and flinging trailers along the highway like toys, combusting houses into piles of rubble, heavily damaging many other homes and businesses, terminally damaging several historic buildings, and killing three people. The county’s request for FEMA funding for Glade Spring was denied, despite appeals, and fundraising efforts to help homeowners and businesses continue. While this community has not suffered the devastation of Tuscaloosa or Joplin, Missouri, it has also not received the publicity or awareness that these cities have. The town is also located in a traditionally poor area of our country. Those interested in supporting Glade Spring and Washington County’s recovery efforts can make donations to United Way of Russell and Washington Counties, through which all funds go directly toward the cause. For more information, please see http://www.rcwunitedway.org.

The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets are no strangers to historic preservation related themes. If you think back to the original Muppet Movie (1979), you’ll recall the idea of rehabilitation of a church into the Electric Mayhem’s Coffee House. Kermit and friends travel across America seeing all sorts of roadside Americana (e.g. the giant literal fork in the road). Doc Hopper is attempting to create a chain of frog legs. The Muppets convene in a ghost town. The movie is full of preservation tangents.

As for the new Muppet movie, The Muppets: preservation abounds again. First off, if you are a Muppet fan, it will delight you with its classic Muppet humor (except for a song or two – some are strange). I saw the movie with 10 diehard Muppet fans and everyone loved it. It felt much more Muppet like than the previous few movies (A Very Merry Muppet Christmas or Muppet Wizard of Oz to name a couple). If you are not a Muppet fan (insanity!), perhaps you should give it a try.

I’d been looking forward to this movie for years (my family and my in-laws all adore the Muppets), with an added flair of anticipation because there was news that it featured preservation themes. You can read a synopsis of The Muppets, but if I were you – I’d see it for yourself. Rather than tell you the story, perhaps you would like to know what a flamingo obsessed preservationist thinks about while watching The Muppets? I guarantee that I’m not the only one. (Warning: possible spoilers here!)

• The rehabilitation of the old Muppet Theater and studio lot is strikingly preservation related. It’s dilapidated and sad and left for ruin when the movie begins, mostly because the Muppets are no longer together. An oil baron claims to have plans to turn it into a museum, however, Walter (the newest Muppet) hears him say that the plan is to buy it, tear it down and drill for oil. The Muppets can only have the theater back if they raise $10 million dollars.

• Walter shows the audience that everyone can make a difference; he is the Muppets’ biggest fan and wanted nothing more than to visit the studio and to meet Kermit the Frog. Upon learning of the fate of the Muppet Theater he set out to search for Kermit. He inspired everyone to save the theater. It makes me think of the Margaret Mead quote, “”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

• In order to get ready for the fundraising telethon, the Muppets work together to clean up the theater and to make it look as good as new.

• The community is needed to make preservation work. The Muppets pooled their resources and believed in themselves. While skeptical at first, the audience started coming in to watch. The Muppets wouldn’t have survived with financial support and then overwhelming, surprising crowds of fans after the telethon.

• As always the Muppets have an awesome road trip adventure. While they didn’t pull out the classic, “We picked up a weirdo,” line, one of my new favorites is “Travel by map.” Can I do that too?

• Bridges! The Muppets travel over a beautiful open spandrel concrete arch bridge and a truss bridge. Lovely.

• And there is some demolition, as Gonzo blew up his plumbing business. It’s a funny plot point, however. And although the age of the building is uncertain, I did like the sign.

What can we learn from the Muppets and their preservation endeavors? There is nothing wrong with using the pull of nostalgia to get you going. Believe in yourself. Follow your dreams. Have a sense of humor. Don’t let go of what you love.

The Muppets (2011). Excellent. We’ve missed you, Muppets!

FREE! TODAY! Historic Bridge Rehabilitation Webinar

From Mead & Hunt

“Approaches to Historic Bridge Rehabilitation,” the second webinar in a series by the Historic Bridge Alliance, will be held Thursday, April 7, 2011. This FREE webinar is hosted by the Federal Highway Administration and National Highway Institute.

The program includes presentations of three case studies of rehabilitation projects that preserved historically significant bridges. Projects in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Minnesota will be featured. Presenters will provide lessons learned and how Section 106 requirements were met. The program will also include a brief update on the efforts of the Historic Bridge Alliance (HBA).

Webinar details:

* April 7, 2011

* 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Eastern Time)

Below is the information you need to participate in the conference:

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You can still participate – just sign in at 11:30 — everyone is invited. The emails about this webinar are flying everywhere. And thanks to bloggers like the Missouri Route 66 Association for helping to spread the word (and subsequently reminding me to do the same). The more who know about historic bridges, the better!

Historic Preservation Basics No. 2

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation.

No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.

Every field has its jargon, historic preservation included. Some may be shared with architectural history or planning, for example, but most of the preservation vocabulary has unfamiliar connotations to those who are in other fields. So here is a list of words that will help you to understand and participate in conversations about preservation. Without a doubt, there are many more than I include here, but these represent my most commonly used technical words.

You’ll notice that many of these words tie into the definitions of each other, and many derive from federal regulations. The explanations are

Adverse Effect:

An alteration to the historic resource that will diminish the property’s integrity and its characteristics of integrity that qualify it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Usually referenced in discussion with Section 106 and regulatory review.

Context:

When discussing context, it often refers to understanding a resource within its historic context (e.g. an art-moderne gas station within its context of roadside architecture and the associated context of the growing United States and automobile industry, etc.). Resources out of context are at risk for losing their significance (e.g. a lone Queen Anne house that was once part of a neighborhood, but now sits lonely among a sea of strip malls). Concerning the National Register, “historic contexts are historical patterns that can be identified through consideration of the history of the property and the history of the surrounding area.” Read more about historic contexts and the NR here.

Historic:

Listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Typically, such properties are 50 years or older, though that is a guideline, not a rule.

Integrity:

When referencing historic integrity there are seven aspects to evaluate: location, design, setting, workmanship, feeling, association, and materials. Integrity will convey the significance of a property. When integrity is lost, the property is no longer significant, which is why alterations must be carefully reviewed. Read more about integrity from the National Register Bulletins.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:

Often abbreviated NHPA or NHPA 1966 (16 USC 470). As explained by the National Trust, this is the “primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States. The law establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections which encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources of national, state, tribal and local significance.”

National Register of Historic Places:

Called the National Register for short, or “NR,” it is the scale for significance — how we know what is important.  The National Park Service clearly explains it as, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”

National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Abbreviated NTHP or referred to as the National Trust. From the National Trust “about us” section: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. Staff at the Washington, DC, headquarters, six regional offices and 29 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states.”

Old:

Referring to a property that does not possess historic significance or historic integrity. Not eligible for listing in the National Register.

Preservation:

The maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. (Protection and Stabilization have now been consolidated under this treatment.)

Reconstruction:

Re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.

Rehabilitation:

Acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character as it has evolved over time.

Restoration:

Depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.

RITC:

Abbreviation for Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. Also called the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. From the National Trust, “The federal rehabilitation tax credit encourages the preservation and reuse of the nation’s built environment by offering federal tax credits to the owners of historic properties. Since it was enacted in 1976, the tax credit has generated over $50 billion in renovation and revitalization dollars. As a disincentive to demolition, it allows the owner of a historic building to receive an income tax credit of 20% of the amount spent to rehabilitate a certified historic structure. There is also a 10% credit for older, non-historic buildings…To qualify for the 20% rehabilitation credits, a building must be a “certified historic structure.” A certified historic structures is one that is listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a registered historic district and certified by the Secretary of the Interior as being of historical significance to the district. In addition, the rehabilitation work must qualify as “certified rehabilitation.” A certified rehabilitation is one that is approved by the Secretary of the Interior as consistent with the historic character of the building and, where applicable, with the district in which the building is located. All elements of the project must meet certain standards to ensure that the historic character of the building is preserved in the process of the rehabilitation.

Secretary of the Interior’s Standards:

Sometimes referred to as the Secretary’s Standards or Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties and sometimes Standards for Rehabilitation. The Standards for Rehabilitation are the most common, but there are four sets: preserving, restoring, rehabilitation, and reconstructing. Read all about the Standards for Rehabilitation from the National Park Service. From the National Park Service, “The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work.” These Standards are the benchmark for work on historic properties and for maintaining a property’s significance.

Section 106:

Federal regulations (36 CFR 800) implementing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This process determines the effect that a project has on a resource and then seeks ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the effects. Section 106 is applicable to all federally funded projects. Read more about Section 106 from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.

Section 4f:

Section 4(f) of the DOT Act stipulated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other DOT agencies cannot approve the use of land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site unless the following conditions apply: (1) There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land and (2) The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use. Read more from the Section 4f interactive training site.

Sense of Place:

Without finding a technical, regulatory related definition, sense of place refers to the feeling of a defined place, whether it be a town, village, landscape, park, etc. Sense of place means that people understand the built environment and how each element ties together. Sense of place gives people pride and connection to their environments, which is an important part of understanding historic preservation. To understand, consider sense of place in reference to a small town or a big city — both have a strong sense of place, usually. But then consider sense of place among highways of strip malls and run down neighborhoods. It’s not there, right?

SHPO:

Abbreviation for State Historic Preservation Office (or Officer, depending on your state). Pronounced S-H-P-O by some or ship-po by others. Established by the NHPA 1966, the SHPO has many roles including: surveying properties across the state in order to determine their significance, nominating properties to the National Register, administering grants, assisting local agencies, conducting and consulting on Section 106 review, reviewing applications for federal investment tax credit projects.

Significant:

In relation to the National Register, significant means historically significant. In order to be historically significant a property must have high levels of integrity and be significant under one of the criteria for evaluation of the National Register. Local, state, and national levels of significance may be different; i.e. a property may be significant locally (perhaps a barn where defining town events happened) but not nationally (as it would have to be important to the shaping of the nation). In short, when you read significance think historically significant and National Register.

Streetscape:

Streetscape refers to the massing of buildings, the street plantings, the physical environment and feel from the ground, from the human experience. It often goes hand-in-hand with view shed.

Viewshed:

This is a term often used in analyzing the effects of a projects. Essentially, will the view from or to a property be adversely affected by this change? Often the viewshed contributes greatly to the setting, feeling, and association (integrity!) of property or district. The Wilderness Battlefield case addressed viewshed.

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What vocabulary words would you like to add?

And, as a side note, thank you for the very positive response to the beginning of this series. Please let me know what you would like to read! I’m not sure on the length of this series, but for now, I’ll try for Wednesday and Friday posts for a few weeks.

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?

Know Your Standards!

By standards, I mean the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.  Essentially, rehabilitation takes a historic building and adapts it for modern use. However, it is more complicated than that.

First, why would you want to follow the standards? The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards are used in determining if a project will qualify for a historic tax credit. So, you can get the tax credit if you follow the standards. Second, as of right now, the tax credit can only apply to income producing properties; in other words, not your private home (but a rental home counts).

Alright, so when talking about tax credits and standards, you should also know that in order for a property to be considered for this tax credit, it must be eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  If your property isn’t already listed, be prepared for research!

Now, you have an income producing property eligible for or on the National Register. Perfect! Now you can get to work. Hang on, this is where the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation come into play. Basically, they are guidelines to follow in order to maintain the integrity and character defining features of your historic property. After all, if a rehabilitation erased everything important about the building then it would no longer be eligible for the National Register. See how it works?

There are 10 standards to follow, to know, to memorize, to justify to the National Park Service that you adhered to. Want a fun way to learn them? Take the electronic rehab course offered by the NPS – an interactive web “course.” (One of my professors shared this link with us.) You can review all 10 standards, see them in action, and then take a quiz to see what you’ve learned!  If you don’t have time in a classroom or with a group discussing the standards, this is an excellent starting point! (Actually, even being a student talking about, I find this to be a good review.)  Enjoy! Thanks again, NPS!

A Lost Historic School: Francis M Drexel School

Exterior of the Drexel School. Click for source.

Take a look at the picture above. What comes to mind? Most observers would be able to say that this building was beautiful in its heyday. It has an impressive institutional feel about it. So, what will happen to it? Doesn’t it look like the perfect subject for adaptive reuse? Why does it look like that? Clearly it is not respected by its neighbors.

What was it? This building, the Francis M Drexel School was built in 1888, designed by architect Joseph Anshutz and financed by Anthony Drexel. Francis M. Drexel was an artist, a banker, a family man, and a philanthropist who wanted to provide education to all regardless of race, gender, or social class. His son Anthony Drexel realized his vision with the construction of approximately 75 schools across Philadelphia, all similar to the one above. It served the Philadelphia city schools until the 1970s, after which is was declared a surplus property. Very few survive intact or survive at all today. The Francis M Drexel School is the oldest extant Drexel School and it does not have a promising fate either.* In December 2009 it demolition was ordered. It will be replaced with brand new luxury town homes. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything, and demolition will begin next week.

The Francis M Drexel School in Philadelphia, PA.

This building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit the exterior and interior photo sections of the Drexel School website to feel the beauty of such a school and the impact of its current condition. It’s heartbreaking, even for someone who has never heard of the building. Trust me, but see for yourself, too. You can also find the blueprints of the school in the blueprints section of the sidebar.

And it is the case of another historic school lost. And perhaps a reminder that it is never too early to advocate for saving a structure — empty buildings never fare well. Was there anything that could have been done? How can we learn from this lesson? Readers, what can we do? This is a situation we find across the country, all of the time. What are your thoughts? A use could easily have been found – it is in the center of a neighborhood, like most historic schools. There is not a resident of that neighborhood who has seen the cityscape without the Francis M Drexel School. Sadly, since it has been surplus since the 1970s, most people have not seen it as an active part of the community. Perhaps they have had trouble looking beyond the neglected building. And with all that time of neglect, it had become unsafe and deemed ineligible for rehabilitation.

What sort of mitigation would be appropriate? Suggestions? Do you have advice or know people in Philadelphia to help, those who care about the school’s memory? Leave a note here or email drexelschool [at] verizon [dot] net. Your help is much appreciated.

*Historical information provided by the Drexel School website: http://www.thedrexelschool.com